20 hour layover in London - help me have a pleasant time?
July 4, 2013 4:54 PM   Subscribe

Hi London Mefites! I will have time during an extended layover to choose one neighbourhood of your large, international city to eat dinner, wander a little, sleep, and eat breakfast in. Which neighbourhood should I choose?

Some details: I eat vegetarian food. I like quirky, walkable neighbourhoods. Somewhere not too inconvenient or expensive to get to from Heathrow (and back to Heathrow in the morning) would be dandy, as would somewhere near where I could find a room for the night that would not be insanely expensive (the Canadian dollar to UK pound exchange rate isn't hugely favourable). I arrive Monday (July 8) in the late afternoon, and depart Tuesday in the late morning. I'm also happy to have the company of other mefites, if anyone's available and interested in entertaining a visitor on a Monday evening (it's perhaps a bit short notice for putting up a proposed meetup post).
posted by eviemath to Travel & Transportation around London, England (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I sent you a memail but there is always the AirBnB option as well.
posted by bquarters at 5:12 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

The tube from Leiciester Square goes to Heathrow for, I think, around three pounds. Takes about an hour. That puts you right in the middle of so much, including the National Gallery, which is free and awesome. Vegetarian fare is everywhere. I don't live there, just spent two weeks on vacation with a vegetarian son.
posted by raisingsand at 5:20 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can store the majority of your luggage at Heathrow, and take only small bag with what you need for the 20 hour layover.
posted by ShooBoo at 5:24 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I spent an memorable day in London a few years back based on Mefite recommendations. I did have particular literary and art interests and needed to start and end at St. Pancras Station. I had a beautiful time without hopscotching too much. Let people here know what you're interested in, so they can help you plan a similar, focused tour around your interests.
posted by Elsie at 7:08 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

You may find your choice is decided by where you can afford to stay. London is insanely expensive to me (I come from a different part of the UK). Decide how much you want to spend then search accordingly.

Alternatively, what about Reading instead of London? Or one of the other smaller towns nearby?
posted by kadia_a at 10:53 PM on July 4, 2013

Eat at an Ottolenghi spot.
posted by knile at 11:16 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

It would be really helpful to have a bit more information about what you like and how city-comfortable you are before making recommendations. As a Londoner though I wouldn't recommend the centre as a fun place to wander and absorb particularly. Obviously there are loads of amazing museums and attractions up there, also beautiful parks, so if that's what you're looking for then that's where you should be.

If you want a real taste of London pick somewhere a little further out. The nice bits of West London (nearish Heathrow) are among the most expensive places to stay in London unfortunately. But you could pick somewhere fun like Notting Hill and get to and from there pretty easily.

One of my favourite wandering things to do with out of town visitors is to walk from Vauxhall up along the South bank of the river. You get to see all the main sights, visit the Tate Modern, have lunch at Borough market, see free art at the South Bank centre. Lots of good things and a beautiful pedestrian walk for a lot of the way.

Good vegetarian food is pretty easy to come by all over London.
posted by Dorothia at 12:14 AM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

St John's wood is a lovely area for a wander and fairly close to Hampstead Heath, which is wonderful I think. The tube makes it all fairly accessible. I can't help with accommodation. Earl's Court is not particularly lovely but does have a lot of backpacker options. You can prob do better though.
posted by man down under at 12:38 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have breakfast at the Breakfast Club in Islington. You can take the Piccadilly Line through to Heathrow (from King's Cross, easy to get to from Angel station). It's waking distance from Ottelenghi (mentioned above). Nice walkable night life, Camden Passage markets are nice. Try Airbnb. It's expensive. It's London. Reading would be cheaper but probably not as fun.
posted by jujulalia at 2:42 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think raisingsand has it. Here is my suggestion for Whistlestop London:

Get the tube from Heathrow to Leicester Square. Create a meetup (definitely not too short notice!) and meet assorted mefites for falafel at Gabys, then decide whether to go to the National Gallery or National Portrait Gallery for afters (both free and five minutes' walk from the tube). Then, wander round the west end, take your pick of one of the awesome bars, or just soak up the atmosphere. Central London on a summer evening, as theatregoers and drinkers cram in or spill out of grand old theatres and hidden dives, is unique - definitely quirky. If you need some green space, there's a tiny haven at St Pauls Church in nearby Covent Garden (otherwise known as the Actors' Church), or you can go eastward to Victoria Embankment Gardens, and take a peek over the road at the Thames.
posted by greenish at 2:56 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It would be really helpful to have a bit more information about what you like and how city-comfortable you are before making recommendations.

I've navigated many large, international cities, so although I prefer the feel of a small town or neighbourhood to a central arts and business district in the evenings and first thing in the morning, I can handle myself in a city, can judge that this street with a lot of different people on it is safe even though it's quite late at night, but that I should probably avoid that alley where folks are buying their recreational drugs, even though it's mid-afternoon. I can also walk down a crowded sidewalk without holding up traffic:P

I like mixed income and multicultural neighbourhoods, street art, small independent restaurants and book/music stores, areas where I can (without planning) happen upon some interesting live music that is new to me, or where I might end up standing at the outskirts of a solidly leftist rally in the local park/square that is otherwise often populated by local youth and older folks just hanging out on weekends or evenings because it's nothing fancy but pleasant and welcoming, or cheering in support as the protest march goes by. I like sitting on a patio or in the window of a coffee shop/cafe/whatever the local equivalent is and watching people go by and interact with each other.

There's apparently a vegetarian pub in central London? This Indian restaurant that Time Out London recommends sounds like something I'd like as well. Looking through airbnb's neighbourhood guide, at least the "Loved by Londoners" section, it looks like neighbourhoods such as Brixton or Whitechapel/Brick Lane would appeal to me. jujulalia's Breakfast Club suggestion also looks to be well-suited to my tastes.
posted by eviemath at 5:04 AM on July 5, 2013

Nthing Ottolenghi. I just made a couple of dishes from their cookbook for my birthday party, and they were big hits.
posted by novalis_dt at 2:25 PM on July 5, 2013

Response by poster: I've found myself a hostel, and my plan is to head to the Coach & Horses (the "vegetarian pub" link above) for dinner after I get in, probably arriving around 7:30pm. (Sorry, the online menu at Ottolenghi just didn't grab me.) I'll post a meetup... here.
posted by eviemath at 12:45 PM on July 7, 2013

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